Denis Shapovalov continued his impressive run of results in recent months by reaching his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Rolex Paris Masters.

But less than three months ago at the Winston-Salem Open in August, the 20-year-old was searching for form with just four victories from his past 16 matches.

Ranked No. 38 in the ATP Rankings at the time, Shapovalov started a trial period with Mikhail Youzhny at the ATP 250 tournament. Youzhny’s impact on the Canadian was immediate, with Shapovalov reaching his first ATP Tour semi-final in five months.

The partnership has since proven to be a consistent success. Since joining forces with the former World No. 8, Shapovalov has won 18 of 25 encounters, lifted his maiden ATP Tour trophy in Stockholm and reached his first ATP Masters 1000 final in Paris.

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Aside from his playing experience and great knowledge of many of the current stars on the ATP Tour, what else has Youzhny brought to the young Canadian’s game? Shapovalov highlighted one area in his game that they have brought to new heights.

“[On my backhand return, Youzhny and I] worked on blocking it a lot more to start the point and it’s a tricky shot for the opponents,” said Shapovalov. “I feel like it was working for me in Chengdu in one of my matches, and then from then I just stayed with it. I feel like it’s a really big improvement in my game.” 

Shapovalov’s improved return was on show throughout his week at the Intrum Stockholm Open — his first tournament of the European indoor swing — last month. On a fast indoor surface in the Swedish capital, the 6’1” left-hander won each of the eight sets he contested and was only taken to one tie-break en route to the trophy.

That title run has lifted the pressure off Shapovalov — who entered Stockholm with an 0-6 record in ATP Tour semi-finals — and provided the Canadian with the opportunity to relax and enjoy his tennis in the final weeks of the 2019 season.

“I’m just enjoying myself in the last couple weeks of the year,” said Shapovalov. “I feel like with that title in Stockholm, it gave me a sense of calmness, relief. And I’ve just been able to enjoy the last couple weeks of the season and, because of that, I feel like I’ve been able to play really well.”

But despite his relief, Shapovalov has still been working hard to add to his trophy collection. The Stockholm champion has defeated three Top 15 seeds in a row this week to reach his first Masters 1000 final at the Rolex Paris Masters.

With wins against Fabio Fognini, Alexander Zverev and Gael Monfils in the French capital, Shapovalov has guaranteed himself a spot alongside those names in the Top 15 when the latest ATP Rankings are released on Monday.

“I think my level is there [in the Top 15]. I’ve beaten most of these guys here or there, or a guy like Goffin, I have gotten really close with him,” said Shapovalov. “I think my level is there and I knew [it was] just a question of time… It’s just taken me a little bit of time to improve my game and just grow as a player.”

Shapovalov advanced to his first Masters 1000 championship match in unfortunate circumstances, following Rafael Nadal’s late withdrawal from their semi-final encounter on Court Central. The Canadian took a moment to reflect on the situation ahead of his final meeting against Novak Djokovic.

“It’s not the way I wanted to reach my first [ATP Masters 1000] final,” said Shapovalov. “Nonetheless, it’s a great opportunity for me to be in the final of a Masters 1000.”

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With the opportunity to finish his final ATP Tour event of the season with the biggest victory of his career, Shapovalov was clear in his strategy ahead of his meeting against the World No. 1.

“I’m not one to cut down risk, so I’m going to go for it [against Novak]. It’s a match where I have nothing to lose,” said Shapovalov. “It’s awesome to be in my first Masters 1000 final and it’s just a bonus for me. Honestly, I’m just going to go for it, see what I can do and just enjoy my time out there.” 

If Shapovalov is looking for inspiration or words of advice on how to beat Djokovic indoors, the 20-year-old only has to turn to his side and ask his coach. Youzhny ended his career with a 3-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against the World No. 1 on indoor hard courts.

And while there is no way of knowing if the Canadian will be able to follow in the footsteps of his coach on Sunday, he’s done an impressive job so far in Paris.



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